Protoberberines are a new class of organic cations that are dual poisons of topoisomerases I and II. Certain protoberberines exhibit greater in vitro cytotoxicity against cell lines derived from solid tumors than from leukemias. Using a group of seventeen different protoberberine analogs, the structural basis for selective cytotoxicity toward sensitive SF-268 glioblastoma cells as compared with resistant RPMI 8402 lymphoblast cells was explored. The selective cytotoxicity is associated with the presence of an imminium ion and other structural features of protoberberines, and is not shared by drugs such as camptothecin, doxorubicin, vinblastine, and etoposide, which are either equally or more cytotoxic against RPMI 8402 cells than SF-268 cells. The selective cytotoxicity of protoberberines against SF-268 over RPMI 8402 cells is not due to differences in topoisomerase levels or known drug efflux systems such as multidrug resistance (MDR1) and multidrug-resistance protein (MRP). Comparative in vitro studies of the accumulation of coralyne, a fluorescent protoberberine, into sensitive and resistant cells demonstrated a correlation between drug accumulation and selective cytotoxicity. Inhibitors of coralyne uptake included several protoberberine-related compounds. Of these, palmatine, a minimally cytotoxic protoberberine, both inhibited coralyne accumulation and reduced cytotoxicity against SF-268 cells, but not against RPMI 8402 cells. Despite the structural resemblance of protoberberines to catecholamines, our experiments using inhibitors and cells expressing biogenic amine uptake systems have ruled out the involvement of biogenic amine uptake1, uptake2, and vesicular monoamine transport systems. Uptake systems remaining as candidates, supported by preliminary data, include transport via vesicles derived from specialized membrane invaginations and selected carrier-mediated organic amine transport systems. Copyright (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Inc.
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